The Hidden Gem of the Best Rocky Mountain National Park Winter Hikes
Rocky Mountain National Park is a bucket list destination for many people.- And for good reason! But with over 4 million visitors each year, finding your true “back to nature” moment in Rocky Mountain is sometimes easier said than done. Even in the dead of winter, the classic rocky mountain views attract visitors from around the world. But don’t worry. Today, we’re bringing you a true hidden gem of the best Rocky Mountain National Park winter hikes. With none of the entrance gates and parking nightmares you might be used to, the Longs Peak area of RMNP offers breathtaking views and adventures for all levels. And it’s just 20 minutes outside of Estes Park! From short scenic jaunts to all day winter hikes to Chasm Lake, you’ll find the authentic rocky mountain experience you’re looking for at the Long’s Peak area (and for the ultimate adventure, follow our guide for a Chasm Lake winter hike).
Where is Longs Peak Trailhead?
Getting to the Longs Peak trailhead will take you just shy of two hours from downtown Denver, about an hour and a half from Golden, an hour from Boulder, or about 20 minutes from Estes Park. If you’re driving through Lyons (you’ll take this route if you’re coming from Denver, Boulder, or Golden), you’ll enjoy a scenic drive through the beautiful Saint Vrain Canyon (Hwy 7 West) before taking a left onto Longs Peak Road. After about a mile, you’ll find the parking lot at the base of some of the most impressive peaks in Colorado. If you’re coming from Estes Park, you’ll take Hwy 7 South for about 9 miles before turning right onto Longs Peak Road. Don’t have a high clearance vehicle? No need to worry. The road up to the Longs Peak trailhead is paved and well maintained from either direction (but you’ll likely have some snow or ice on the road during the winter months). Longs Peak trailhead parking is typically easy to find (although the weekends might get more full). Unlike other entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park, there is no entrance fee needed to access the Longs Peak Trailhead.
A quick 5 minute hike from the Longs Peak Trailhead will take you to this scenic view of Longs Peak.
Best Rocky Mountain National Park Winter Hikes
The Longs Peak trailhead offers a plethora of Rocky Mountain National Park winter hikes. And there’s something for every skill level. Here are our favorites:
Quick Senic Detour: Do you prefer scenic drives to long hikes? Then this quick jaunt will be perfect for you. Stretch you legs and enjoy some fresh air with a quick winter hike to a scenic view of Longs Peak, the only 14,000 foot peak in Rocky Mountain national park. To get there, follow the main trail from the Longs Peak Trailhead for about five minutes. Keep your eye on the left side of the trail- in a few minutes, you’ll see a trail that leads off to the left. Follow it for less than a minute and you’ll find yourself at a lovely clearing with spectacular views of Longs Peak, Mt Meeker, and Mount of the Holy Cross.
Beginner Hike: Eugina Mine Trail. The Eugina Mine trail is great beginner winter hike in Rocky Mountain national park. Just shy of 3 miles round trip, this mellow hike is mostly flat. You’ll start from the Longs Peak trail and hike for ½ mile until you reach a marked intersection. There, follow signs that point you to follow the right trail towards Eugina Mine and Storm Pass. Enjoy views of the Estes Cone, a beautiful, cone shaped peak, as you traverse across a hill towards the Eugina Mine site. You’ll find the Eeugina Mine site about a mile after the intersection. You’ll see the site of the homestead that was used for over 10 years while the mine was in use. Once you’re finished exploring this beautiful rocky mountain national park winter hike, head back the way you came.
Moderate/ Advanced Hike: Up for a challenge? The true hidden gem of Rocky Mountain national park winter hiking awaits. Hike to Chasm Lake in the winter for a truly magical experience. But keep in mind, this is a challenging hike. You’ll need to be prepared.
Going up, up, and more up on the Chasm Lake winter hike.
Here’s what you need to know to explore one of the best Rocky Mountain National Park winter hikes
Location: Start your hike to Chasm lake by following the directions above to get to the Longs Peak Trailhead.
Length: The winter hike to Chasm lake is 8.5 miles round trip
Difficulty: Hiking to Chasm Lake, especially in the winter, is a challenge with a well worth it view. Hiker should be prepared for a 9 mile hike that gains nearly 3,000 feet of elevation.
Chasm Lake is a breathtaking high alpine lake that sits at the base of Longs Peak. Visitors stare in awe at the vertical rock face of the “diamond” that shoots up from Chasm Lake. In winter, you’ll find a frozen lake surrounded by icy and snow covered rocks. The alpine tundra that surrounds Chasm Lake is fragile, so make sure to stay on marked trails or durable surfaces such as rocks. It can take years for the slow growing alpine ecosystem to recover from human impact.
Hike to Chasm Lake in Winter
Your winter hike to Chasm Lake will start on the main Longs Peak trail. The first half of the trail winds through forested hills with views of the surrounding mountains as you gain elevation. You’ll get your legs burning on a few switchbacks, so don’t forget to turn around on your breaks. You’ll find views of the Estes Valley and Three Sisters Peak growing bigger and bigger behind you with every step.
About 2.6 miles into your trek, you’ll reach a junction with the Jims Grove trail. Continue on the leftmost trail towards Chasm Lake. The next junction will be a little less than a mile later, when you can either choose to go right towards the Longs Peak summit or right to Chasm Lake. At this point, the trail towards Chasm Lake will start to descend a bit.
Hiking to Chasm Lake in winter, you’ll traverse across a large snowfield. Use caution here, and if you feel uncomfortable, enjoy the views where you are and then safely head back down the trail. To safely cross the snowfield, you’ll need traction devices for you shoes, like microspikes or crampons (depending on the level of the snow).
The final push to Chasm lake will have you wandering through short marshy section (stick to the trail here). Finally, you’ll scramble up a short incline to find yourself at the foot of Chasm Lake. Take in the scenery- you’ve earned it!
Tips for Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park in the Winter
Bring the right gear
Weather changes quickly in high-altitudes. You’ll be amazed at how quickly a bluebird day can turn into a snowstorm. Be prepared for it all with plenty of layers and always pack snow gear that will keep you warm and dry. Winter hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park often requires foot traction devices, even for short hikes. Bring snowshoes and microspikes on all winter hikes.
It might be cold, but starting early is your safest bet when hiking in Rocky Mountain in the winter. Storms often gather in the afternoon, and it’s best not to be driving down windy roads at night. Plus, tarting early gives you a full day of light to enjoy the spectacular views that Rocky Mountain has to offer! If you’re attempting the Chasm Lake winter hike, be ready for a big day, and bring a headlamp in case you’re starting or ending in low light.
You never know what conditions you’ll find during a winter hike in Rocky Mountain national park. Be over-prepared with various traction devices (particularly for a Chasm Lake winter hike), food, water, and clothes. The worst end to a hike is having to turn around when the gear you need is sitting in your car. Be ready for anything so you can enjoy the best Rocky Mountain National Park winter hikes without a worry!
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